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The past many days, starting from Saturday, December 4, 2021, witnessed, for me, a flurry of activities, beginning with the Distinguished Great Ife Alumni Award hosted at the Marriott Hotel, Lagos by the authorities of the Obafemi Awolowo University (formerly the University of Ife). Sixty alumni were honoured for contributing in various ways to the well-being of their alma mater. Yours truly was one of those so honoured – for which I am grateful! It must have been a herculean task for the Great Ife authorities to pick just 60 names out of thousands of qualified candidates – whatever the criteria used. I am sure the December 4, 2021 award will be the first of many to come because there are so many alumni worthy of honour for their contributions to the alma mater.
The award ceremony was also an occasion to launch an endowment fund for the university. Tagged the Great Ife Advancement Foundation, it was the first of its kind in Great Ife’s 60 years of existence. Thus, kudos to the vice-chancellor, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, for the landmark achievement of birthing an endowment fund for the university, which is radically different from the launching of appeal or development funds to execute one project or the other or meet identified specific needs. “Endowment funds are investment portfolios where the initial money is provided by donations to a foundation.” Many Ivy League universities abroad run on endowments and not on parlous government subventions and measly tuition fees as is the case here.
For instance, the endowment figures of Harvard ($53.2 billion), Yale ($42.3), Princeton ($37.7billion) Columbia ($13.5 billion) will make Nigeria as a country green with envy! Harvard’s endowment is said to now stand at over $10million per undergraduate student. Harvard Management Company (HMC) reportedly employs financial professionals to manage the approximately 12,000 funds that constitute the endowment. The response at the Lagos launch of the Great Ife Advancement Foundation was encouraging. As the good news spread and more alumni, home and away, imbibe the laudable idea and buy into the project, I expect Great Ife in a few years’ time to count among the leading universities in the Third World, to begin with, that can boast of a respectable endowment portfolio.
My family and I shared the same table at the event with the wife and sibling of another awardee, my brother and professional colleague, Femi Adesina (Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity), who was unavoidably absent since he was on official assignment with Mr. President to Dubai. Femi’s sibling, Dr. Olubiyi Adesina, needed no introduction going by the brothers’ resemblance. Femi’s wife I had met before at their Olusosun home. Whatever anyone may say, humility and courteous disposition run in the Adesinas. Also seated around the same table was my schoolmate at Owo High School and now friend, Segun Olugboyegun (Fagboyegun) and his amiable wife. Segun is selfless when it comes to doing public good and he demonstrated that again at the event. Being such a self-effacing person, he deliberately left, I am sure, before his donation and pledge were announced!
One question was how the Great Ife authorities will invest the endowment funds. To raise funds is one thing; to ensure it is invested profitably and responsibly is another. The biblical parable of the sower comes to mind here. Not all grounds are fertile and not all seeds fall into fertile grounds. Another biblical parable of the talents also teaches us that not everyone with investable funds does the needful with them. But Ogunbodede, the OAU vice-chancellor, is much exposed to the systems and nuances of leading universities all over the place, Harvard inclusive. Let us also hope that when Ogunbodede’s tenure ends mid-next year, his successor will be a (wo)man of like minds and with the same zeal, passion and integrity to continue on the right path already beaten by Ogunbodede and his team. A forthright, diligent and focused Governing Board is also a desideratum. The partnership between the university Management and the alumni association must be sustained in the interest of all. The “conscious and articulate” Great Ife students also have a role to play as watchdog and conscience of progressivism on campus.
Last Thursday, December 9th and Friday, December 10th were OAU’s convocation ceremonies to round off its Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Friday, December 10th was especially nostalgic for me because it was my daughter’s convocation day, thirty-nine years after my own convocation at the same university in 1982. Memories of how my mother mobilized family and friends from Owo, and how I rushed down from Ibadan where I was serving my NYSC, came flooding back. What a passionate lover of her children my mother was! May we her children receive the strength and enablement to do similarly for our own children!
On Sunday, 5th December, 2021, I was in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, after a lacuna of some 33 years. One of my first assignments as the Features editor of The PUNCH newspapers was at Ilorin, during the tenure of genial Gov. Ibrahim Alkali. A return to the same Ilorin this time was at the behest of my long-standing friend and Comrade, Isaa Aremu, a Labour leader par excellence. When, in May this year, Comrade Issa was appointed the Director-General of the little-known Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS), Ilorin, I remember writing that he will most certainly join the league of a few conscionable, progressive-minded and forward-looking members of the present administration. The other two that I mentioned were JAMB’s Prof. Ishaq Oloyede and NDLEA’s retired Gen. Mohamed Buba Marwa.
Issa has not disappointed! Just a few months in office, MINILS has found its bearing and is attracting attention and recognition already. Did you read my “Kokori ignites old-time fire at Michael Imoudu Institute”? A novel development at MINILS was that Issa was able to draw the central Labour organization and its entire leadership to the institute for the NLC’s Harmattan School (training session for NLC cadres), which ran from Monday, 6th to Friday, 10th December. The theme was “Covid-19, implications and the world of work”
Rubbing minds with Issa as the Harmattan School progressed, the MINILS 5th D-G disclosed that the institute was conceived in 1963 as part of the Third National Development Plan with the mandate to build capacity for the country’s workforce; address Labour market issues; promote the principles of conflict resolution and collective bargaining; minimize Labour conflicts; promote and enhance productivity, among others. The institute was commissioned in 1983 as the National Institute for Labour Studies but was changed in 1986 to the Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies to immortalize the country’s generally touted Number One Labour leader. According to Issa, from its inception MINILS has tried to live up to its mandate. In the last five years, however, the institute reportedly ran into bad weather with the virtual collapse of infrastructure. With Issa’s appointment last May, the task, first of restoration and then of taking MINILS to greater heights, has commenced in earnest.
“We are not here to agonize but to organise” said Issa with gusto reminiscent of Karl Marx’s rallying cry to workers in his famous Communist Manifesto.: Workers of all countries, unite! Forging the all-important unity of workers has begun: For the very first time, the NLC has taken its Harmattan School to MINILS. It is surprising why it had not moved before now to “take ownership”, as it were, of that institution. Government, the central Labour organization, workers and worker-friendly organizations, and employers of Labour are the veritable stakeholders that must partner to see to MINILS fulfilling its mandate.
Daunting as the task may seem, the first steps towards its actualization have already been taken. The new MINILS management has developed a blueprint for the institute, to run from 2022 to 2025 while a curriculum review to reflect modern-day realities has been accomplished. “Increasingly now, strikes are promoting unemployment” and this must be tackled head-on with new methodologies, said Issa. The focus of this year’s NLC Harmattan School is the impact of COVID-19 on workers and work. I found Issa’s polemic on this issue very educational and instructive. He described the politics surrounding the availability of vaccines and the travel restrictions placed on Africans (Nigerians especially) by some Western countries as “the return of apartheid through the back door” He said rather than politicise the COVID-19 pandemic, the world should take advantage of it to “deepen knowledge and scientific discoveries and development”
“This is the time for global solidarity and not building another discredited Berlin Wall. An infection to one should be an infection to all. African countries should know it is an illusion to depend on the West for development. They underdeveloped us before through slavery, colonialism, and neo-colonialism; and the solution is for Africans to have vaccines solidarity. If the West can do without our travelers, we, too, should demonstrate the capacity to remain in our own Continent and develop it” Well said!
For me, the icing on the cake was the opportunity of re-uniting with my old teacher and comrade at Ife, Comrade Dipo Fasina (aka Jingo), who was one of the facilitators at the five-day event.